A while back I read this old(ish) article by Rich Burlew on creating villains for campaigns. As both an exercise for my creative addictions and to plug 6d6 Hellenic, I’m going to take his 14 steps and build a villain for an as yet unwritten 6d6 Hellenic Campaign.
Step 0: What is the villain’s race and class?
Now whilst this is clearly a question targeted at D&D, they still apply. For race I want to explore the other mortal races in the setting, which are centaur, faun and strange tribesman. I don’t think a tribesman fits quite with what else I want planned and a centaur, whilst powerful, will add too many questions (how does he fit in the boat?). I’m going to go with a faun and make our villain a her. As for class that could translate into which paths does she have, but I don’t want to get that detailed so far. For a character to be truly powerful in 6d6 Hellenic, they need to be the champion of a god, so she is at least that at this stage.
Step 1: Start with two emotions
One is the emotion that the drives the villain, the other is the emotion we want to inspire in our players and player characters. The driving emotion of a villain is very important as it gives them the foundation for the later depth that lifts them above “antagonist of the campaign”. Rather than go with the more obvious of hatred or greed, I’m going with fear. Our villain is acting out of fear.
For the emotion our villain will inspire, I’m going with wrath. I want the players/characters to be angry at what the villain has done, so that they have a very personal stake in trying to stop the villain.
Step 2: What events in the villain’s past brought about this emotion?
Specifically for our villain, what is it she is afraid of and what has caused that fear? Fauns live in the wild places of Ancient Greece, generally in the highland forests and on mountains. These places are far away from humans, but each year the amount to wilderness that the fauns roam over is just that little bit smaller as the number of humans grows, their farms take up more land and their cities demand more lumber. Whilst it is perhaps a trope, our villain fears humanity and more specifically fears that humanity are going to bring about an end to her way of life. She fears that that in the end, there will be no more wilderness for the fauns.
This is perhaps too ephemeral, cerebral or philosophical a fear by itself to turn some one to antagonism. To make the emotion more raw, lets add grief to it. Our villain was once part of a band of roaming fauns, of which she was notionally the leader. This band discovered a group of bandits had taken up residence in their forest for the purpose of attacking merchants and locals from a concealed base within the thick mountainous wood. Wishing no ill on neither merchant nor shepard, our villain urged her band to rid the forest of these miscreants. The attack went horribly wrong as the bandits were actually highly trained mercenaries hired to by a city disrupt the trade of a rival polis. Our villain was the only survivor. This tragedy brings her fear into a painful personal focus and empowers it with grief and a feeling of failed responsibility.
Step 3: What is the villain’s scale?
Scale is an important one, as it helps us put the threat the villain possesses into scale. Our villain is not thinking small. Just ridding the area around her forest home won’t stop the humans from coming back. Thus her scale is across an entire region of Greece. She’s a threat to a very large number of people and poleis.
Step 4: What is the villain’s goal?
Our villain has both a strong fear of and vendetta against humans. If we combine this with her scale, then her goal become clear – to remove the human population from one of the larger greek islands. She also has a more personal goal of taking revenge on the mercenary company who slaughtered her friends. These two goals may end up competing, making her a more complex character.
Step 5: What does the villain need in order to be able to achieve this goal?
Her goal could be accomplished in several ways, mostly involving death. With a large enough army she could conquer an island, but she’ll need to employ human soldiers to do both that and prevent re-occupation. Given her fear of humans she’ll want to avoid contact with them as much as possible. This leads towards making those already on the island want to leave. Since she lacks the power to cause a natural disaster or influence climate, I’m leaning towards biological warfare. This means she’ll need a disease she can easily spread.
Any attempt, no matter the method, to depopulate an entire island is going to attract the attention of the gods. If she uses a disease, then she can readily expect that Apollo or Asclepius may be called on by the targeted population for divine aid. To avoid a god undoing her work, she’s going to need the the power of another god.
That’s it for Part 1 on the core narrative of our villain. Next post I’ll be looking into obstacles, influences and her plans.
Image Credit – Grumpy Faun by Hellie Carousel – CC BY-NC-SA 3.0